Employee Ownership for Democracy
Robert Oakeshott, Jobs
and Fairness, Michael Russell
Most employee owners understand very well that employee ownership with employee participation is good for employees and good for companies, but most importantly, argues Robert Oakeshott, it is good for democracy. By enlarging the number of people who have a stake in the system, broad business ownership strengthens freedom and democracy. He repeats the advice of Sir Francis Bacon to King Henry VII, “Wealth is like muck. It is not good but if it be spread.”
Oakeshott, who has spent most of his professional career studying, teaching, researching and encouraging employee ownership, is an unabashed enthusiast who combines history, philosophy, legal argument and case studies to show that substantially employee owned companies can succeed at least as well as other firms, while additionally providing job security and broadly distributing capital income.
the employee stock ownership plan, “one of the most consequential social
inventions of this century,” he gently dismisses critics who argue that
employee-owned firms are inevitably doomed by the greediness of workers. His
evidence is simple: employee-owned firms work. With modest encouragement from
law, the number of substantially employee-owned firms in Europe and
Oakeshott’s early chapters provide a brief introduction to
moral, philosophical and legal antecedents of employee ownership. They are
followed by case studies of employee-owned firms in Western Europe and
Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung, a famous German optical products
company was created as a beneficial foundation for its employees in 1891. It
was divided when the country was split after World War II, and its facilities
contrast, the John Lewis Partnership, a retailing and manufacturing chain in
A company which found its way to participation is the Baxi corporation, a British firm that rode the rising market for water heaters to great success after World War II. Oakeshott’s history and analysis identify strengths and weaknesses, and help to explain why the corporation was unable to maintain its employee ownership after the book went to press.
Despite its factual tone, Oakeshott’s tale of the privatized British bus companies leaves the reader cheering for the employee owners as they struggle to stay in business in the face of brutal competition from the country’s largest private bus companies. If anyone is inclined to think that business isn’t tough, this chapter is a strong dash of reality. And his story of the National Freight Consortium is a different twist on the theme of privatization to employee-owners, with a different outcome and hard lessons for all participants.
Oakeshott’s case studies outside the
In closing, Oakeshott argues that more substantial employee ownership could reduce unemployment, stimulate economic growth and address problems of business succession, but most of all, it could strengthen democracy.
His enthusiasm for employee ownership and his meticulous descriptions of companies and their practices make this book an engrossing read and a long-term value as a reference and source of solutions to organizational problems. oaw